How Tape Storage Helped MLB Handle Massive Archives

Major League Baseball discovered efficiencies, cost savings using tape for mass storage of historical footage.

Magnetic tape storage has proven to be one of the most durable technologies for data storage ever created. Despite analyst claims in the late 1990s that tape would shortly disappear -- owing, first, to the appearance of cheaper, larger capacity disk drives, then to the widespread adoption Fibre Channel fabric "SANs" that enabled the fast mirroring of data between disks. It hasn't happened. Today, tape remains cheaper than disk, faster than disk from a write-speed perspective, and, when properly implemented and managed, more reliable than disk.

The old saw that "1 in 10 tapes fail on restore" once promulgated by a leading industry analyst on the payroll of disk array manufacturers has been proven to be absurd propaganda. Tape is simply the best technology for the applications to which it is typically applied: backup, and more recently, archive.

Tape is as American as, say, baseball. At least, that's the message implied in recent announcements by Fujifilm Recording Media USA surrounding its new StorageIQ service offering. They are bolstering their pitch for tape and for their optimization service by referencing the story of a big customer, Major League Baseball (MLB).

The story goes that MLB will record high-definition video of roughly 2500 games in the 2010 season, with five camera angles for each game. That amounts to adding almost 9.5 petabytes of digital content to an archive that currently stores 150,000 hours of historical game footage.

In addition to its commercial value to the MLB Network and to MLB Productions, the data is clearly of value to baseball historians. Finding a way to store it reliably and cost-effectively became a mission assigned to Tab Butler, director of media management at the MLB Network, back in 2008. He had six months to design a solution that would facilitate digital archiving of existing video footage which was then stored on video tape, and to create a workable archive for adding and managing future content.

Tape provided the only media option that fit design criteria: mass storage capacity, cost-effective operations and simple archive management. Butler's team chose a Storage Tek SL8500 LTO-4 tape library front-ended by two 50TB high-performance disk arrays (for video capture) and a half-petabyte SATA disk storage system (as a temporary storage location for game highlights and other projects). Front Porch DIVArchive management software was selected to manage archiving of the data for permanent storage to tape.

To keep the tape archive in top operating condition, Butler turned to Fujifilm for its Tape Environment Analysis (TEA) and Archive Verification Service (AVS). These services use a specialized appliance from Fujifilm partner Crossroads Systems called the ReadVerify Appliance (RVA) to collect data on their tape infrastructure and to monitor, track, and report on the performance and utilization efficiency of the repository hardware and media. Fujifilm's AVS service further contributes to the archive by validating the quality and integrity of each video recording stored to tape media, ensuring that precious video footage remains viable and retrievable over time.

These services have now been packaged by Fujifilm as a service available to all tape shops. Branded as StorageIQ, Daniel Greenberg, Fujifilm's product manager, claims that the service will "help make tape storage smarter and even more cost-effective." If MLB's experience is a guide, Greenberg's claims are valid.

Spokespersons for MLB say that they are realizing upwards of $20,000 per year in cost savings by maintaining library efficiencies using the service. That's important, given that MLB expects to consume about 8000 LTO tape cartridges per year for the next five years as they digitize legacy video and add new content to their archive.

Fujifilm's Storage IQ offering includes an affordable rental of a Crossroads RVA, which installs readily into their existing SAN and offers compatibility with most tape libraries in the market. Fujifilm tape media customers can buy the service from their dealers directly or they can source the service from the Fujifilm Web site directly at Greenberg described the cost of the service as "highly affordable."

In addition to the RVA data collection, analysis, and reporting service, Fujifilm has also created a bundle of professional services called StorageIQ Plus that include AVS, monitoring, and alerts, and an overview analysis of library plants that can help companies reorganize and refit their existing plant -- or at least provide facts that can be used to negotiate with vendors. (Having been personally involved in sales meetings between my clients and tape subsystem vendors, it is clear that having timely data-on-tape efficiencies can contribute greatly to clear-headed negotiations around upgrades to library and virtual tape library equipment!)

Fujifilm's new offering is a harbinger of things to come in the world of infrastructure management services, as well as of a new wave of cloud-based analytic service offerings. One could well envision monitoring and management services being sourced in the future both to optimize internal IT infrastructure and to enable the monitoring of cloud-hosted infrastructure services in a unified way.

With StorageIQ, Fujifilm has hit one out of the park.

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